Farming in Wales has a big part to play in addressing the climate change crisis and farmers are geared up to do just that, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has said.
But addressing the key findings in the latest ‘Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK’ by the Committee on Climate change, the union warned of the dangers of focusing on livestock production or inappropriate tree planting.
The report highlights some critical issues, including the need for a strong UK food production sector and the dangers of delivering UK emissions reductions at the expense of increasing our reliance on food imported from countries with far greater carbon footprints. Agriculture is currently responsible for around 10 percent of UK emissions, with methane from livestock production making up just over half of this figure. By comparison, transport and energy make up around a half of all UK emissions.
This means that if we stopped producing food completely in the UK, 90 percent of the problem would still be there. Indeed, the Committee recognised that switching away from Welsh and UK produced red meat would increase the nation’s carbon footprint because we have some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of meat reared anywhere in the world.
The FUW therefore welcomed the fact that the Committee had backed its calls for a robust post-Brexit trade policy which reflects the lower carbon footprint of UK produce.
The FUW also responded to the call to increase UK forestry cover from 13 percent to at least 17 percent by 2050 by planting around 30,000 hectares (90 – 120 million trees) of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year. Indeed, whilst FUW members are supportive of appropriate tree planting, it must not undermine farm productivity and the environment, and members regularly highlight the obstacles they come across when they try to plant trees. For example, many FUW members have expressed frustration at having had applications to plant trees through the Glastir scheme turned down in recent months.
However, it is important to remember that, within the past century, the area of woodland in Wales increased threefold; from 5 percent in 1919 to around 15 percent in 2016, with mainly deciduous farm woodlands making up 30 percent of the area.
The FUW continues to highlight the experience over the past century which shows the damage that well-intentioned policies aimed at increasing woodland areas can have. The replacement of land grazed by sheep and cattle with forests has been directly associated by scientists with habitat and species loss in hundreds of examples from around the world, including the UK, so panic-planting must be avoided at all costs.
Moreover, the FUW continues to stress that using land that currently produces food to merely off-set growths in greenhouse gas emissions in other industries is foolhardy.
In the five years to 2018 CO2 emissions from airlines increased by a third, while Airbus has forecast that the number of commercial aircraft in operation would double to 48,000 planes worldwide by 2038.
Undermining ecosystems and rural communities which rely on food production by planting trees on farmland in order to off-set such increases would clearly be foolhardy.